Scholarship and Science
Glenn Van Whye, Pacific Lutheran University


Scholars face a full-scale assault on the very foundations of knowledge. A pervasive relativism has infected every field of scholarly inquiry. With every traditional basis for knowledge in question, defenders of those traditional bases, and especially Christians, are denied respect in the wider scholarly community. This inevitably affects the self-confidence of many Christian scholars, and has resulted in a weakened witness of Christians within the scholarly community. This paper attempts to provide a firm basis for teaching and research within the various disciplines of science. It begins with elemental principles of knowledge and builds step by step until a deep-based understanding of the primary issues is achieved. The metaphysical and epistemological supports for knowledge are examined, and subjective, skeptical, and relativist positions are shown to be without support. An alternative position is presented which provides a basis for knowledge in the physical and social sciences.

Scholarship and Science: The Struggle between Christian Theism, Metaphysical Naturalism and Relativism - How to Proceed

In these days we are engaged in a mighty struggle for the minds of scholars--and we seem to be losing ground. In the universities and colleges of our land, battles are being fought daily between those who believe in a world created by God and those who reject that belief. The lines between the two positions are becoming more clearly drawn every day as the basis for believing in any objective reality becomes less and less tenable for anyone who refuses to believe in God and His creative acts. Now, nearly everyone who is not a theist joins Pontius Pilate in the question, "What is truth?" Even Christian scholars have become hesitant to acknowledge that they are seeking truth, because to seek truth one must assume that it can be found, or else the effort is pointless.

For scholars, the key to opposing the devaluation of knowledge is an intellectually defensible basis for the argument that reliable knowledge of an external reality can be gained. Very sophisticated arguments have been made that call into question the possibility of such reliable knowledge, and so an equal amount of sophistication will be required of Christian scholars who wish to join the struggle against the forces of deliberate ignorance masquerading as wisdom. Crucial to the struggle is an understanding of the issues which will allow Christian scholars to tear down the strongholds of ignorance and expose the emperors of "wisdom" as strutting about without clothing. The strategy for such an operation is simple. Our opponents use doubt as their weapon, but they apply that weapon only against our positions. Radical doubt, however, is a weapon which destroys every position--theirs included. Once radical doubt is shown to be a weapon which leaves no shred of knowledge standing, any sane person will drop the weapon and never use it again. Once radical doubt is discredited, the possibility of knowledge is restored, the claim to have discovered truth becomes credible again, and honest people begin to move inevitably toward Christian theism as the best explanation for why things are as they are.

Before we get too optimistic about any near-term victory, however, we need to recognize that this struggle is not simply an intellectual battle. Hiding behind the intellectual arguments is very often an ethical issue. Many scholars do not place radical doubt in their arsenal simply because they are intellectually convinced by the position. Rather, the following principle holds true even in the intellectual arena: "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." (John 3:20) People who have favorite sins which are condemned by "fundamentalists" and "Victorians" and such people find the use of radical doubt which denies the truth claims of such fogies a very effective way of discrediting their accusers. Deadlock is thereby achieved, and nothing resolved, to the relief of the person whose ideas and actions were being strongly challenged.

The Christian theist has an obligation to raise the discussion above such superficial levels, and so has a responsibility to be prepared to attack such radical doubt. It is the object of this paper to sketch out the issues involved. First the metaphysical question of whether objectivism (and objectivity) or subjectivism is correct will be examined. Next, the epistemological question of whether credibility or skepticism is correct will be examined. Then, the sociological question of whether absolutism or relativism is correct will be investigated. Because ethics is crucial (as noted above) to the struggle in which we are engaged, any suggested strategy must include a plan to conquer the field of ethics. In this paper, a discussion of the field of ethical thought forms the climax of the discussion.


In the history of science, objectivity has always been the ideal after which every honorable scientist has striven, because objectivity was believed to be the surest way to the truth. To be "objective" is to "let the facts speak for themselves," i.e., to be unbiased--free from merely personal feelings or prejudice (prejudgment). However, since scientists are human beings, and since all human beings have personal feelings which influence their understanding of things, isn't it impossible to be objective? Throughout the history of science there have been those who have seen the inability of scientists to achieve perfect objectivity and so they have given up the quest for it, claiming that objectivity was impossible and objective truth did not exist.

The first question then becomes: is there an objective reality (a reality outside the human mind) which is powerful enough to impose itself upon the human mind and to determine to some degree the thoughts of the human mind? In the terms of this question, then, "objective reality" (if there is such a thing) is the reality which is experienced by the human mind but not controlled (completely, though it may be partially) by the human mind. If there is an objective reality, then "truth" is that which accords with the facts of objective reality. On the other hand, if there is no objective reality, then the term "truth" has no meaningful content. That is because everything which is subjectively real is subjectively true, and whatever "exists" in a mind is subjectively real, and therefore everything thought is true and the term truth has no specific reference (i.e., as something different from that which is false), since only what is not thought (and about which there is no knowledge) could be false.

A belief in objective reality as defined above, one should note, does not entail a belief that everyone knows everything. Because a person knows only a part of reality (and such will always be the case, since human beings are finite), that does not mean that what he knows is not truth. In other words, a partial view of reality is not a false view (although it may lead to false generalizations). Furthermore, the fact that something may be seen in different ways (e.g., light as particles or as waves) does not mean that there is no objective reality to it--any more than the fact that a person on the inside of a house sees the house differently than a person on the outside means that the house is not objectively real (even though a theory unifying both views may be presently lacking).

The philosophical position which rejects the idea of an objective reality is called phenomenalism. It is a philosophical position which is popular in higher education circles and especially in the social sciences. The forerunner of phenomenalism was George Berkeley, an eighteenth century Irish philosopher. Berkeley began with a position of John Locke, the British empiricist, that "ideas" are the only objects of direct awareness, and then went on to show that if we cannot know anything beyond ideas, then we cannot prove that there is any "objective reality" beyond ideas. Berkeley, a bishop, then posited the existence of God, who created those ideas in human minds so that common experiences among different people were possible.

To most modern phenomenalists, however, the concept of God is not to their taste, so they deny Him. This denial leaves them in a difficult position. If I cannot prove and therefore cannot believe that there is any objective reality which corresponds to my ideas, then my idea that there are other people also cannot be believed. I am forced into a pure solipsism, which holds that the self is the only subject of verifiable knowledge and that nothing but the self exists. While that theory may delight a Vedantic Hindu, it is an extremely lonely theory (and it certainly does not justify the effort of writing learned articles for all those non-existent others to read). Therefore, many phenomenalists simply posit the existence of others, and then on top of that they posit the fact of communication with others (though they often talk in terms which so stress the uniqueness of the other that it is hard to understand how communication occurs at all except through some mystical empathy--which again does little to justify the writings of carefully reasoned articles). It must be noted that these positings are completely inconsistent with their fundamental thesis that nothing exists beyond our ideas. Furthermore, the theory leaves hopelessly unexplained the origins of the supposed multitude of human minds with the ability to communicate with each other. It must be admitted that Berkeley's solution to the problem, while equally arbitrary, was more explanatory. The theory really does require a deus ex machina.

If the position that there is no objective reality has so little to commend it, then is the position that there is an objective reality in any better shape? The existence of objective reality cannot be proven by logic, for logic is a matter of relationships and it therefore must presume the existence of the things to be related. Logic cannot prove the existence of such fundamental postulates; it can only assume them. Neither can the position that there is an objective reality be proven empirically. As the phenomenalists point out, there is no way to prove that all of the information received through the senses--which is all of the information we have about things external to ourselves--is not simply imaginary. I cannot prove empirically that every thing and every event that I think I observe is not imaginary, nor can I prove empirically that any other person exists or that my experiences with other people are not imaginary. I cannot prove empirically that I am not absolutely alone and that even my "knowledge" of who I am is not imaginary.

Yet, I do not believe that everything is imaginary. I cannot live on the basis of such radical subjectivism. I believe--no, I KNOW--that other people really exist and that my interactions with them are real and have meaning for both them and me. I know that my thoughts and words have meaning and are not immediately self-contradictory, as they would be if there were only subjective reality and if anything (including the exact opposite of everything) were possible. I know that events really affect me. Nor do I have any reason to presume that only other people exist externally but that other material objects do not, since I know of the existence of both in the same way--through my senses. Without good reason not to, I believe my senses. I cannot live any other way, nor can anyone else. Everyone, in deed if not in word, lives under the assumption that there is objective reality. Therefore, life itself, as it must be lived, is the proof of objective reality. Subjectivism is proven false by the fact that no one can even begin to live consistently according to its assumptions--that is, as if nothing at all were real or mattered in the end.

Notice that the proof of the existence of objective reality is neither logical nor empirical. It is not opposed to logic or empirics but is prior to them. The only proof is existential (not existentialist), but it is proof nonetheless and conclusive proof to anyone who is not merely argumentative (note that a person given to argument is living completely inconsistently with the subjectivist position, since there is neither truth nor falsity under that position and therefore there is nothing to argue about).


While we have just demonstrated that there is an objective reality, there still remains the question of whether or how we can gain knowledge about that objective reality. There are some who maintain that we cannot.

Radical epistemological skepticism is connected in the modern age with the arguments of David Hume, an eighteenth century Scottish philosopher, and in the present time with the restatement (and even attempted extension) of those arguments by Karl Popper in his discussions of the philosophy of science. This radical skepticism is concerned with an attack on inductive reasoning. Induction is the process of reasoning from particular instances to a generalization about them. Induction is "learning by experience" and it is the method of science, where induction is from empirical facts to generalizations (explanations or theories or laws) about empirical facts.

Hume uses deductive logic to demonstrate the non-validity of induction. Briefly, his argument runs like this:

  1. True knowledge must have its foundation in propositions that are directly known, not in propositions which are inferred from propositions which are unknowable.
  2. The only types of propositions which are directly knowable are 1) necessary (universal and unchangeable) truths and 2) propositions about what is physically observed (which are contingent or conditional, and not necessary, i.e., things could have been different).
  3. Even if there is such a thing as necessary truth, there can be no connection between it and a contingent proposition. A statement about something changeable cannot be deduced from a statement about what is unchangeable. Therefore, any conclusion about physical reality (which is a contingent reality) must be based on physical observation.
  4. In order to move from a proposition about what is physically observed to what is not observed (thus to a generalization), there must be a proposition that there is a resemblance between what is known (observed) and what is not known (unobserved).
  5. No such resemblance thesis is possible, because it must be based on physical observation (see 3 above) and so needs a resemblance thesis itself (see 4 above) about anything which is not observed. Therefore, propositions about what is observed cannot be used to propose anything about what is not observed.

This must be admitted to be a powerful argument. Immanuel Kant, an eighteenth century German philosopher who founded modern idealism, claimed to be roused from his "dogmatic slumber" by Hume, and no longer claimed that the "thing in itself" could be known but that only mental categories could be known (by a sort of supernatural revelation). Popper also completely capitulates to Hume. But consider what Hume's conclusion means. Nothing about what is not observed can be inferred from what is observed. This is radical epistemological skepticism.

In the face of such absolute skepticism, Popper's attempt to rescue science is almost naive. Popper agrees with Hume that no observation or group of observations can prove empirical theory (i.e., a generalization about physical things), but he suggests that an observation can disprove, or "falsify," theory. For example, if I am observing a black crow, then the theory that all crows are red is "falsified." The theory that crows are all colors, however, is not and never can be falsified by observation. Nor, of course, can the theory be falsified that the crow that I am presently observing is the only black crow in existence. Furthermore, if I turn my back on the crow so that I am no longer observing it, the theory that all crows are red is no longer falsified (that is, the crow may have turned red, and there is no resemblance thesis that requires that it must be black in the future if it was in the past). Popper's falsification principle is of no help at all in dealing with radical inductive skepticism. Popper himself admits that "the number of possibly true theories remains infinite, at any time and after any number of crucial tests." [Popper, p.15] No matter how many theories are falsified, the number of possible true theories remains infinite, and picking which of these to believe is a matter of mere chance, so that there is no possibility ever of knowing whether you know anything, and the effort to falsify anything would seem pointless apart from curiosity value. As Popper also points out, "Nothing, of course, can make sure that for every theory which has been falsified we shall find a 'better' successor, or a better approximation--one that satisfies these demands. There is no assurance that we shall be able to make progress towards better theories." [Popper, p.17] This is not a temporary lack of assurance that will disappear when we are certain that we have a better theory; this is a permanent and complete lack of assurance no matter what theory we come up with.

This inductive skepticism has spread rapidly throughout the intelligentsia. For example, Thomas Kuhn, a presently popular historical theorist, has accepted the notion that there can be no assurance that there ever has been or ever will be an increase in knowledge; instead, there are merely revolutionary movements from one "paradigm" (world-view or comprehensive theory) to another paradigm which is absolutely incompatible with the one which preceded it--with no implication that there has been progress in the acquisition of knowledge. Furthermore, Kuhn is "tempted to exclaim that when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them," [Kuhn, p.110] though he apparently restrains himself from such complete metaphysical subjectivity. Much as he wishes to deny any connection between knowledge ("theories") and objective reality ("given data"), he is forced to confess: "I find it impossible to relinquish entirely that viewpoint." [Kuhn, p.125, cf. p.149]

Likewise, Hume asks why, if induction is invalid, "nevertheless, do all reasonable people expect, and believe, that instances of which they have no experience will conform to those of which they have experience?" [quoted in Popper, p.4] Hume's answer was that it was due to "custom or habit," an answer which assumes repetitions do in fact occur in objective reality and are known to occur, and therefore induction conforms to reality. Popper disagrees with Hume, arguing that we expect conformity because we need the world to conform to our expectations. [Popper, p.23f] It should be obvious, however, that expectations and wishes are not the same. Though we may strongly desire--even need--good weather, we will still not expect it if all the signs are there which in the past have accompanied bad weather. We use the past to predict the future, though not absolutely since something new (previously not experienced) may happen, i.e., we have inductively determined some laws, though not all laws nor all relationships between laws (some laws may supersede other laws at some particular time). The reason that we can never perfectly predict the future is because we are not omniscient, not because induction is invalid.

Hume's answer to why all reasonable people assume the validity of induction is the only correct answer. We assume consistency in things because that is what our experience of objective reality has taught us. We assume that induction is correct because it accords with life (even when we fail to predict correctly, we find, upon investigation, that it was because we were unaware of some law which had priority in that situation over those laws of which we were unaware). We cannot prove the validity of induction through logic. Logic is a matter of determining which relationships are present, and it therefore requires the assumptions that some relationships (such as consistency) exist in reality. It cannot prove the existence of relationships; it can only look for relationships under the assumption that relationships (of some sort) are there. Once again, it is life itself that proves that relationships exist. To consistently refuse to acknowledge the validity of inductive generalization would not merely be horribly inconvenient but it would be impossible (e.g., not using in thought or word any parts of language--such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.--which even hint at generalization from particulars).

Notice again that the only possible proof is an existential one, a proof not in opposition to logical proof (that is, not irrational) but prior to it (that is, pre-rational) and making rationality possible. And notice that the proof is conclusive as proven in the way we live.

Social Science

On the basis of existential proofs we have established that there is an objective reality and that we can validly know and understand that objective reality through inductive reasoning (though, of course, without omniscience we can never perfectly rely upon our own inductive efforts; as more information is gained, generalizations are modified to a closer approximation of absolute truth--unless there are serious temporary theoretical missteps). We can objectively know objective reality because inductive reasoning is in accord with objective reality (it is objective reality which has taught it to us).

The remaining question is: is social reality significantly different--so different that scientific method cannot be used to study it? There is a strong strand of thought which answers the question in the affirmative. It begins with Wilhelm Dilthey, a late nineteenth century German philosopher who reacted against the positivism dominant in his time. His way of thinking distinguishes between objective natural science and subjective human studies. The reason that social studies are supposedly so much different is because human beings are both the observed and the observers, and it is held that they are unable to keep those two roles separate from each other. It might seem that being both the observed and the observer would be an advantage which could lead to fuller and more complete knowledge. But the relativist holds it to be a disadvantage because everyone is necessarily biased and unable to be objective about matters which he considers to be important. The fact that a person holds something to be important is prima facie evidence that he cannot study it and come to a "correct" conclusion about it because his biases will distort the truth. This position, of course, though it originates in social sciences, applies to natural science as well, and people such as Kuhn have not failed to exploit that fact. Since no one (including those in the natural sciences) spends time and effort studying something which he considers unimportant, and since his considering something as important causes him inevitably to distort the truth, then objective truth cannot be found in studies in any field. This radical relativism has had little appeal in the natural sciences, because natural scientists are secure in their belief that their discoveries (such as medicines) are true even though they are considered important.

In the social sciences, however, this radical relativism has gained more currency. It has been astoundingly easy to accuse anyone which whom one disagrees of being inevitably incorrect (or at least irrelevant) due to bias, and this allows one to remain very self-satisfied with one's own opinions without ever having to deal seriously with opposing opinions. Without the discipline of scientific method, every opinion has as much value as every other and the measure of wisdom is popularity. Lack of discipline is excused on the basis of uniqueness. Observers are unique (i.e., have biases different from those of anyone else) and, therefore, explanations which satisfy them need not satisfy anyone else. Furthermore, the things observed (social events) are unique because they are caused by unique human beings, and the meaning of social events cannot be found apart from the meaning given them by the unique people involved in the events.

Dilthey, for example, argued that the complexity of the social world changes over time, and cultural differences would make it impossible to discover laws in the physical sciences. Instead he believed the emphasis must be on an attempt to understand the individual or type. The cultural sciences must be descriptive as opposed to explanatory or predictive and must concentrate on interpretive understanding (verstehen). This process of verstehen involved the need to 'live through,' or recreate, the experience of others within oneself. [Smith, p.7]

In order that the argument of the social relativists may be adequately examined, it must first be recognized that it is merely another form of radical inductive skepticism. In this way it will become clear what is behind the

alleged inability of the scientific method to capture the uniqueness of social (or human) phenomena. Since, so the argument [of the relativist] runs, it is to the uniqueness of any social event that the social inquirer's interest is turned, and since the method of science is capable of systematizing only by generalizing (i.e., by relegating entities to categories or types and describing them by generalizing over all members of such types), it follows that some method other than the scientific (i.e., other than the one presumably followed in the nonsocial sciences) must be employed in the social sciences...One upshot of the above remarks is that, strictly speaking, every entity is different from every other entity, i.e., no two entities are identical, for if they were identical they wouldn't be two. Consequently, in this strict sense all phenomena, and not merely social-science phenomena, are unique. From this it follows that if the proponents of the uniqueness view were correct, and if the intended sense of uniqueness were the clear, strict one just delineated, then not only social science, but all science would be impossible. [Rudner, p.70]

Whatever is not objective about social affairs cannot be studied at all nor even known at all. The attempt to suggest that the method of studying social affairs must be through verstehen or empathic understanding rather than through induction is an attempt that must fail because, in order to presume the validity of empathy, we must presume the validity of induction. If empathy with another person results in a true understanding of the other, then it does so only through induction. If we are able to say that we understand the feelings of another, then it is only because we have generalized from our own feelings and have presumed that the other's feelings are another instance of that generalization. That is how induction works. If induction is invalid, then we can know absolutely nothing about the other (apart from a divine revelation), and not only is social science impossible, but so is any type of social study. Not even a "raw" description of events without any reference to motivations could avoid a presumption on the part of the student of social affairs about what is socially important--i.e., important to others--in the selection of the matters reported. On the other hand, if induction is valid, then there is no reason why we may not presume that our generalization applies to more than ourselves and a single other. If induction is valid, generalization--even to the areas of feelings and values--is possible and social science is possible in all areas of social affairs. Social science is coextensive with knowledge about social affairs.

Again it must be stressed that belief in objectivity does not entail belief in infallibility. While it may be true that feelings are objective in the sense that one person's feelings are particular instances of a feeling common (generalizable) to many people, that does not mean that a person's feelings cannot be mistaken by another. Neither does it mean that individual students of social affairs will not have biases that will cause them to (deliberately or not) misunderstand the feelings of others. What it does mean is that there is an objective social reality which can be studied by the method of science--by the gathering of much information (more and more throughout the passing years) and by reasoning inductively from that information to generalizations. The fact that people often try to hide their feelings (perhaps even from themselves) means that the task of the social scientist will be more difficult and more often his results will be open to charges of error. Difficulty, however, is not at all the same thing as impossibility, nor is it necessarily an adequate reason for giving up the task.

Notice once again the process by which we have arrived at the conclusion that objectivity is possible in social studies. As before, in the issue of scientific study in general, the question is one of the validity of induction. As before, this is a question which cannot be answered by logic because it is prior to logic and is the question of what justifies logic (in this case, inductive reasoning). Therefore, as before, it can only answer to an existential proof. The existential proof is essentially this: we know that communication (not necessarily perfect communication but real communication) is possible--about feelings and values as well as about anything else. Whoever communicates admits this. Communication (including that resulting in empathic verstehen) is possible only to the extent that there is a commonness which can be communicated. If a commonness exists in reality, then it is acceptable and even necessary to produce generalizations which define and explain that commonness. As those generalizations are based upon more and more instances and upon more and more careful logic, they better fulfill the requirements of science. The possibility of objective social science is existentially proven.

Demonstrating that objective social science is possible is not at all the same thing as showing how such objectivity can be attained, of course. While the many arguments of the relativists cannot convince us that relativism is true, they do convince us that the effort to achieve objectivity is fraught with many dangers. They have reminded us that not only can individual scientists be biased but so can whole societies (dominant groups) of scientists. Now, we find it is wise not merely to distrust the scientist who may be consumed with self-interest (concern for fame and fortune) to the point of falsifying or at least stretching the data, but also to distrust the findings of a whole society (such as, perhaps, our present one) filled with people so consumed. More than that, we are suspicious of unconscious biases in individual scientists and in the society that molds them. Indeed, the relativists have made us beware of even our own efforts to be scientific. We have been taught to trust nothing and no one, and terminal doubt can easily set in. It is time, not to ignore the warnings of the relativists, but to put them in their place.

The existential proofs demonstrated in this paper reveal to us just how powerfully reality molds us and our thought processes. We must trust the power of that external reality to finally guide us and to finally guide others as well. This is not to deny that we and others can deny reality and distort it for perhaps even fairly long periods of time, but it is to affirm that in the end reality is stronger than any of our fictions and will finally overcome them. "The truth will out," is an expression of such faith in objective reality, and ultimately in the God of truth who created an objective reality. Only with that faith can we believe in the purpose and progress of science.


It should be noted that the argument for objectivity in social science entails an argument for objectivity of values. Knowledge about the values of another (whether by "empathy" or another method) presumes induction and therefore the generalizability of values. It must be presumed that values are common among people, else there could be no knowledge possible about another's values, and thus no knowledge about motivations, and thus no way to understand another's actions, and thus no meaning to events which involve others, and thus no possibility of gaining wisdom about social events, for all would appear utterly chaotic to the observer. The presumption that values are common and generalized goes strongly against the currently popular trend toward ethical relativity, however, and that fact alone is enough to cause many to cling to a radical skepticism in spite of everything. It may be too much to ask current social scientists to admit that, upon examination, certain actions--such as the immolation of widows and the mistreatment of helpless races and perhaps even such things as sexual promiscuity--are contrary to values held in common by all people--even those people inconsistently involved in performing those very actions. As long as the intelligentsia is committed to an ideal of letting everyone do pretty nearly whatever one pleases, there is not likely to be serious study to learn what responsible behavior is, except in those areas where the values to be applied are non-controversial (i.e., admitted by everyone, and thus requiring no defense). Such areas are growing more and more rare in a society committed to ethical relativity, and so the crisis of social science is growing more and more severe. While it will be the most difficult task that a social scientist can face (and is perhaps for that reason as well being avoided), sooner or later social scientists will have to begin to self-consciously define what is responsible behavior in terms of their discipline. Some of the more frustrated ones have already begun in their own areas of interest.

Clearly, the task is to connect certain types of individual behavior with effects on other individuals and on society as a whole, and then to connect certain types of individual behavior with various attitudes (conscious and subconscious). The determination of cause and effect is, of course, the scientific task par excellence. Certainly, it is difficult to determine cause and effect when dealing with the choices of human beings. Due to the extreme complexity of human beings and their affairs, it is not easy to determine which behaviors have precisely which effects. It is even more difficult to connect motivating values with the behaviors of individuals. No one can deny that the task of the social scientist is difficult. Indeed, the difficult tasks of connecting values with their effect on behavior and then connecting behaviors with their effects on society are not even the most difficult tasks that the researcher on human behavior faces. A true social scientist must determine which effects on society are good and which are bad, i.e., which behaviors are responsible and which are irresponsible (ultimately harmful). This determination is no more a mere matter of opinion than anything else we have discussed to this point. Social scientists must begin research into existential values (values without which life would be impossible, e.g., life is good, living together is good) and their necessary supporting network of values (e.g., health is good, relevant knowledge is good, a desire for peace is good) should begin as soon as possible (i.e., as soon as individual researchers can shake off the delusion of relativism).

One last time, notice where the proof of the objectivity of values rests. The proof of the objectivity of values is not empirical (else we would be stymied in our efforts to determine motives by the ability of people to lie, even to themselves, about their values) nor is the proof logical, since it is prior to logic. The proof is existential. We know that other people hold the same values as we, whether they always act in conformity with them or not, and even whether they have reached an adequate state of intellectual maturity to recognize that they hold those values or not. We know that people recognize the underlying value of justice (human equality), because we know that they (like we) resent any unjust discrimination against them. We know that people recognize the value judgment that life is good, because they are not willing to allow someone to take their lives without facing resistance or without suffering any penalty. There are many such values that we hold because life itself and our inborn nature demand that we hold them. We cannot live without holding them, and those who play intellectual games by denying that they hold them are shown to in fact hold those values whenever they are put to any crucial test. If values are not generalized, then there would be no justification for having any laws whatsoever--there would not be one single rule which should be followed by any two people regardless of their own inclinations. Yet none of us desires to live in a world completely without laws (whether written or understood) for such a life would be intolerable. We all recognize the generalizability of values, and cannot do otherwise. The objectivity of values is existentially proven in exactly the same way as is the existence of objective reality itself and the possibility of knowing about that reality and about other people in that reality. If, in our eagerness to deny the objectivity of values, we deny the existential proof, then we also deny the possibility of knowing anything about reality or other people and even the possibility of believing that there is any reality outside our own minds.


The preceding discussion has been meant to serve the purpose of freeing up researchers and educators to confidently seek to apply the method of science to all of reality, including ethics. They should be fully aware of the difficulty of the task they face, and they should be humbly resigned to the fact that it may be some time before really conclusive research-produced generalizations will be forthcoming, but they should not be discouraged nor give up the task.


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Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952.

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Rudner, Richard S. Philosophy of Social Science. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1966.

Smith, John K. "Quantitative Versus Qualitative Research: An Attempt to Clarify the Issue," in Educational Researcher, march 1983, pp. 6-13.

Stove, D.C. Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists. Pergamon Press, 1982.